Race report

Super Formula Suzuka: Matsushita beats Nojiri for maiden win

B-Max Honda driver Nobuharu Matsushitsa produced a masterful drive in treacherous conditions at Suzuka to pass long-time leader Tomoki Nojiri and claim his maiden Super Formula victory.

Reigning champion Nojiri dominated the majority of the race from pole position, with the Mugen Honda driver's advantage over the rest of the field peaking at well over 10 seconds early in the 31-lap contest.

But the tide started shifting slowly when both Tadasuke Makino and Matsushita dispatched front row starter Kenta Yamashita in quick succession on laps seven and nine respectively, and set about chasing Nojiri for the victory.

By lap 15 Makino had brought the gap to Nojiri down to seven seconds, with Matsushita following him closely behind in third place.

Matsushita made multiple attempts at passing Makino for second, but the Dandelion driver was able to resist his advances until just four laps from the finish, when Matsushita finally made a move stick into the final chicane.

Once in clear air, the 28-year-old wasted no time in closing the gap to championship leader Nojiri, reducing his lead from three seconds to 1.5s in the span of a single lap.

On the penultimate lap, Matsushita went around the outside of Nojiri into Turn 1, making the move stick to clinch a maiden victory in Japan’s premier single-seater series for himself and the B-Max Racing team.

Nojiri eventually finished five seconds off the lead in second, albeit with an enhanced 16-point lead in the championship, with Makino matching his career-best result in third to complete an-all Honda podium.

Matsushita passed Nojiri late on to become the third different winner in as many races this year

Matsushita passed Nojiri late on to become the third different winner in as many races this year

Photo by: Masahide Kamio

Sacha Fenestraz had a fairly lonely race en route to fourth, the Kondo driver not having the pace to fight for a podium position after being jumped by Matsushita and Makino on the opening lap.

KCMG secured a double points finish with Kamui Kobayashi leading home team-mate Yuji Kunimoto in fifth after the team elected to use team orders to allow the former to chase after Fenestraz for fourth.

Fuji Race 1 winner Ryo Hirakawa completed an impressive recovery drive from 12th on the grid to finish seventh at the flag, having dropped down to 14th in the early stages of the race.

The Toyota World Endurance Championship driver pulled off some great moves in the wet to limit the damage to his title hopes, passing a struggling Toshiki Oyu for seventh on lap 19 at the final chicane.

Oyu continued to tumble down the order in the final part of the race, allowing Nakajima Racing team-mate Naoki Yamamoto to bag his first points of the season in ninth behind the second Dandelion car of Hiroki Otsu.

The list of points scorers was completed by Red Bull junior Ren Sato (Team Goh).

A minority of drivers elected to make a pitstop in a race where tyre change was not mandatory, with Yamashita the highest-place driver to do so en route to 16th.

Having dropped outside the podium positions early on after starting from the front row, Yamashita dived into the pits at the end of lap 11 for a fresh set of wet tyres. 

But that strategy backfired when a Kondo mechanic dropped the jacks before the front-right tyre was bolted on properly, costing him crucial time and leaving him tumbling down the pack.

Super Formula Suzuka race results - 31 laps:

Cla # Driver Team Time Gap
1 50 Japan Nobuharu Matsushita B-Max Racing Team 1:01'18.681  
2 1 Japan Tomoki Nojiri Team Mugen 1:01'23.734 5.053
3 5 Japan Tadasuke Makino Japan Dandelion Racing 1:01'26.794 8.113
4 4 France Sacha Fenestraz Kondo Racing 1:01'37.100 18.419
5 7 Japan Kamui Kobayashi KCMG 1:01'40.575 21.894
6 18 Japan Yuji Kunimoto KCMG 1:02'03.285 44.604
7 20 Japan Ryo Hirakawa Team Impul 1:02'05.062 46.381
8 6 Japan Hiroki Otsu Japan Dandelion Racing 1:02'06.490 47.809
9 64 Japan Naoki Yamamoto TCS Nakajima Racing 1:02'10.245 51.564
10 53 Japan Ren Sato Team Goh 1:02'11.168 52.487
11 19 Japan Yuhi Sekiguchi Team Impul 1:02'11.768 53.087
12 39 Japan Sena Sakaguchi P.MU/CERUMO・INGING 1:02'22.134 1'03.453
13 65 Japan Toshiki Oyu TCS Nakajima Racing 1:02'31.989 1'13.308
14 15 Japan Ukyo Sasahara Team Mugen 1:02'36.378 1'17.697
15 36 France Giuliano Alesi Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S 1:02'37.018 1'18.337
16 3 Japan Kenta Yamashita Kondo Racing 1:02'38.107 1'19.426
17 12 Japan Nirei Fukuzumi ThreeBond Drago CORSE 1:02'47.141 1'28.460
18 37 Japan Ritomo Miyata Kuo VANTELIN TEAM TOM’S 1:02'47.637 1'28.956
19 14 Japan Kazuya Oshima docomo business ROOKIE 1:02'49.092 1'30.411
20 38 Japan Sho Tsuboi P.MU/CERUMO・INGING 1:01'54.761 1 Lap
21 55 Japan Atsushi Miyake Team Goh 51'24.999 6 Laps

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